"Ohhh... So hungry..."
It wasn't the first time Ranma Saotome, heir to the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts had uttered those words, nor did she doubt it would be the last as she trudged along an overgrown rain forest path that gave shoddy, unkempt paths a bad name. A quick glance at the sky revealed dense clouds burgeoning with moisture, causing the redhead to scowl once more as her current predicament was rammed home with unyielding clarity. It was now month eight since her father's latest training catastrophe, and that catastrophe went by the name of Jusenkyo.
Her location at the moment was the Bayankala Mountain Range in the Qinghai Province of China. 'The ass end of China,' Ranma more precisely defined her geographic coordinates, grousing on just how she come to be in what she now considered her own personal hell on Earth. In the space of months, the once male martial arts heir had acquired a female body with the application of cold water and somehow gained her own personal Chinese Amazon assassin out for her blood.
'Goddamn Panda,' the redhead snarled mentally as she began to climb over a series of downed trees that had been wrenched from their footing sometime in the last decade to block the trail. Her old man's spectacular failure was also why she was tracing her way through the outback of China and not helping him set up camp. Taking him along to scout for food seemed like yet another prelude to disaster in Ranma's eyes, so she was more than happy to let laze around to heat up some water while she hiked to the nearest village. It also represented time alone. Listening to him bitch and moan about weak girls this and pathetic girls that got old fast, and this hike was a small price to pay for some respite.
Another ten minutes of hiking saw her disheveled trail open up along the hillside she had been trudging down, clearing of the dense foliage and opening up into what was on any other day a spectacular view of the valley below. Today, the martial artist from Japan barely paid attention to the scenic outlook of lush greenery partially concealed by a veil by fog, and instead focused on the modest village nestled therein. After a moment of silent study, her eyes flicked back to the massive clouds that hung heavily in the sky, likewise noting the sun was well on its way to the horizon now that she had a clear vantage point from which to view it.
'Food, hot water, maybe spend the night before getting back,' Ranma prioritized, deciding that the last of day's light would be spent getting to the village. Her eyes flicked back to the rolling clouds for a moment, prompting her to crack a rare smile. 'Old man's gonna get soaked tonight,' she chortled internally, turning back down the trail. With any luck, she would make it into the village before- Movement caught her eye; somebody or something running toward her from around the next bend accompanied by the sharp twang of Mandarin hitting her ears seconds later.
Ranma turned fully toward the commotion, finding a man running down the same path with another in hot pursuit. The fact that the first was a thief meant that she would probably trip him as he passed so the second could catch up. The fact that he was a thief running in her direction with a full bowl of food ensured she was going to relieve him of said food with a kick to the face.
"Mine! All mine! Whahaha!" The cackling thief in black was so intent on his prize and subsequent escape that he paid virtually no attention to the karate gi clad girl as he ran past, only realize at the last possible second that she had stepped directly into his path. Shock didn't even had time to register as her left hand swept the bow from the Chinese brigand's grasp while simultaneously balancing on a single leg. The other thrust upward at an angle achievable only by the most devout gymnasts and slammed into his face, sending him skyward several meters.
The entire bowl of rice porridge was devoured by the time the thief hit the ground.
The victim in pursuit caught up to them seconds later, panting but quite stunned that not only had the robber been neutralized by this slip of a girl, but that she had taken the bowl for herself. He stared first at the inert man, then the young redheaded girl and her empty bowl. "You... You ate it."
There was only one thing on Ranma's mind in the face of such obviousness and she held out the bowl.
The Bad Cut
Bad days. You didn't have to be a martial arts prodigy trained since early childhood to have one. They came in a variety of flavors, ranging from the bad hair day to the bad traffic day and all points in between. Fortunately for most people their bad day lasted exactly that long: A day. Some people, however, weren't quite as fortunate and their bad days turned into bad weeks. Maybe the boss was angry. The bills piled up. Excreta, excreta. Some theorize it was an unlucky star taking an unhealthy interest in their life while others simply assumed they deserved it. Whatever the social dilemma, the bad day decided to take up residence in their unfortunate victim's life and extend its stay. Bad months were entirely possible after that and if one were extremely unlucky, a bad year could be achieved.
Ranma Saotome, heir to the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts was having a bad decade.
It hadn't seemed that way at first, but then he simply wasn't old enough to know any better. As he grew up, however, it became obvious. Some of the component parts of his bad decade were still waiting in the winds to unknowingly bite him in the ass at a later date. Others were already well known to him and went by names like the Neko Ken, Jusenkyo and Amazons. There had been hope that upon his return to Japan he would leave the bad days behind; at least until his father announced that he had a hereto-unknown fiancée.
His first impression of the girl named Akane Tendo was that she was certainly cute, but then again she was also a girl that had offered to be his friend, and he had damn few of those growing up on the road; Even if the offer was made to his cursed form. The whole fiancée thing wasn't entirely out of the question until that initial first impression was blasted away and the real Akane was revealed. She was violent, rude, completely macho and the martial artist would be damned if he didn't return like for like, girl or no.
But she was cute when she wanted to be.
Now wasn't that time, however. Now Akane was doing her level best to add yet another component to that bad decade because apparently Ryoga and his super heavy umbrella and razor bandannas weren't enough for the girl to stop arguing.
'...Just for one goddamn moment!' Ranma groused even as structure beneath them gave way. Ryoga leapt in to press the attack, slicing at the pair with his rigid belt technique and forcing Ranma to gather the irate Tendo in his arms while simultaneously attempting to ablate the attack with her opponent's own umbrella. The clean slice through advised Ranma of the severity of the strike, but the red umbrella had done its job. Now she just had to land safely, ditch Akane and kick this fool's-
"Let go of me!"
'Are you kidding?!'Was the first incredulous thought through Ranma's brain as the girl renewed their argument. While under attack. And falling. This time the redhead couldn't help herself and bit back with a sarcastic glare. "What?! You don't think I'm holding you because I want to?!"
Ranma's reward was a hard slap across the cheek as they landed. Akane Tendo stared righteous indignation back at Ranma, her eyes tearing up slightly to confuse the redhead further. "Well if I'm such a nuisance then... then..."
And then she simply stomped off leaving Ranma stunned and wondering what just happened. It took a moment to reconcile the events and especially the tears, then turned to stop the girl's departure. "Akane?"
"IGNORE ME, WILL YOU?!" Ryoga's belt sliced in once more but Ranma was already ducking low under the strike.
"Give it a rest, will you?!" Ranma demanded and executed a handspring to kick the lost boy's weapon away before returning her attention to the angry girl, sprinting after her. "Akane! Akane...?"
"You don't have to explain," She almost sounded calm and for a moment, Ranma had hope that something could be salvaged from this train wreck of a challenge. A friend. Even a fiancée. Maybe they could- She whirled on him with a blistering anger flashing in her eyes dashing those hopes outright. "Because starting now, you and I are strangers!"
Ranma opened her mouth to protest, but the slightest whisper of the wind drew the redhead's attention as Akane stared him down; just enough to cause Ranma to glance up slightly... And catch the movement of a whirling buzzsaw bandanna arcing down upon them like a cloth scythe at the very edge of the redhead's peripheral vision. Adrenaline flooded the martial artist in that moment and she executed an impossibly graceful pirouette, grabbing the irate Tendo by the wrist and twisting her out of its path.
Ranma traded her position for Akane's with the momentum and while she knew it was going to be close, Ryoga's bandanna had no chance of touching her person as it cut a path through the air behind her. And she was right...
The whirlwind hissed by the side of her head and cut into the ground, removing it as a threat. When her eyes returned to Akane, however, they were wide. Ranma stared, then noticed all of the other wide eyes around her. She glanced back and forth with uncertainty as everybody's attention remained fixated on her. "Ah, something on my face?"
"Oh my gosh!"
"You poor thing!"
Ranma blinked. It was the last statement that got her attention and she followed the school girl's finger pointing into the ground behind her. She turned and saw red...
Her pigtail laid on the ground, half unraveled with strands casually blowing in the breeze. The martial artist's eyes widened in horror. It wasn't the lopped off length that now had her complete and undivided attention, but the mangled white strand that had once held it together; now completely shredded and unsalvageable.
Akane's eyes flicked back and forth from the hair to the girl and her crude cut. That had almost been her in that position, but Ranma had... Any anger from before evaporated with the revelation that it could have just as easily been her hair lying there on the ground and she tentatively raised a hand to offer a gentle apology. "Ranma, I'm ah... I'm..."
"I SAID DON'T IGNORE ME!" Ryoga roared from behind, taking full advantage of Ranma's exposed back for the finishing blow. It looked perfect in execution, with the redhead still stunned and completely unaware as the lost boy descended on her with both hands like a jackhammer. The girl's cheek twitched imperceptibly and she twisted left at the very last moment and rolled on her center of gravity to catch his right arm as it past closest to her... And gave it a hard yank down along his momentum.
Ryoga Hibiki augured face first into the ground, shattering the earth in a minor geyser of dust and stone that settled right back on top of him. Stunned, the Lost Boy tried to shake the stars from his vision and push himself out of the rubble. He had just enough time to reacquire the expressionless girl standing over him when her fist smashed into his left jaw, sending him back to the earth. This time blood trickled off of his lip as he floundered helplessly.
"Damn...Damn you Saot-" The cold gaze in the girl's eyes stopped him as he struggled to look up at his opponent.
Ranma simply stared at the teen lying at her feet through a tempest of emotions, most of which were advocate extreme violence in some way, shape or form. Her right arm flexed impatiently, straining... wanting to deliver another excessively violent blow to his face; excess held only in check by ten years of martial arts discipline. Instead, she delivered an ultimatum, suppressing the tremble of adrenaline in her voice with icy resolve.
"I won. You lost." The Anything Goes heir declared emotionlessly. "I don't care about your suffering, your issues or the hell you've seen. Pull this shit again and I'll break you."
Ryoga's eyes bulged with the overt threat. Whether he took the threat seriously or not was uncertain but he remained in the shallow crater, unmoving. The redheaded girl stared him down for a moment longer before turning to walk away, but was interrupted by Akane three steps later.
"Is... Is there anything I can do?" The youngest Tendo offered tepidly as she eyed the haphazard cut that had removed the girl's pigtail. The emotionless stare turned on her now and if Akane didn't know any better, gained a layer of frost. After another long moment, Ranma simply turned away as if the woman named her fiancée was beneath her notice. Akane simmered in kind. "It's just your hair, jerk!"
"How could you say that?!" One of her female classmates gasped, scandalized by the statement.
"Caught in public like that, Akane?" Another girl shook her head with wide eyes, as if living the experience for herself. "She's lucky she didn't just die!"
Akane's attention went back and forth between the girls as she was suddenly cast in the role of unsympathetic bitch and she turned back to the redhead in the hopes of reprieve. "Ranm-"
"I've had enough of your help, Tendo." Ranma shook her head and continued walking. Akane winced with the formal use of her family name and turned to her friends for support, but they all avoided eye contact and began to disperse with the rest of the crowd.
Akane Tendo was left in silence, all but alone on the soccer field save the remains of Ranma's mangled pigtail and one Ryoga Hibiki who was only now recovering enough to dig himself out. The girl watched as he shook the rubble off, glaring at the departing girl's back. "Now do you see why I hate that insufferable bastard?"
Finally there was somebody Akane could look down upon as well and she sniffed her contempt for the defeated boy and made her own departure, hoping maybe Ranma would cool down by dinner.
The family stared.
For her part, Ranma simply ate dinner as if there was nothing the matter while studiously ignoring the eyeballs devouring her in their curiosity. The martial artist picked at the noodles on her plate in absolute silence until Nabiki Tendo finally broke the ice from her position at the table edge.
"That's a bad cut, Saotome."
Ranma suppressed the urge to feel at the misshaven sector on the back of her head and instead continued to eat, ignoring the overly obvious probe for information. Her father, on the other hand, followed with a slightly more pointed question.
"And why are you still a girl, boy?"
And that was the question of the hour. A slight tick found Ranma's cheek, but she suppressed that as well and continued to eat, ignoring her father outright. He was easier to ignore than Kasumi, who was the next to weigh in with almost motherly concern.
"Oh my," The eldest sister tilted her head as if she were trying to look around to the back of her future brother in-law's head. "What happened to your hair, Ranma-chan?"
Ranma finally stopped eating to cast a dead stare that wandered those present at the table until she simply shrugged in Akane's direction. "Ask Tendo there."
Nabiki blinked at the frosty reply as did the fathers. Genma fixed his son-turned-daughter with an annoyed look at the lack of respect for the fiancée chosen for her but all eyes eventually found Akane, who had been eating her noodles quietly from her corner of the table. The eating stopped but she continued to stare at the plate self consciously.
"Akane?" Her father asked carefully, stepping lightly around his daughter's uncharacteristically timid behavior.
"Yeah, what happened, sis?" Nabiki asked with her characteristic bluntness, causing Akane to look away.
"Ranma's fight today," Akane replied sullenly after a moment and the eyes returned to Ranma.
"You're slacking, boy." Genma was the first to comment, leveling a condescending look on his son while Nabiki simply shrugged now that the mundane nature of the incident was well known. Kasumi continued to look curiously at the butchered crop of hair. Ranma's eating paused once more as she shot another irritated glance at Akane.
"Now tell them how it happened." The redhead pressed and Akane's head snapped up with simmering indignation.
"I wouldn't have needed saving if you could have beat him as a girl!" The fiancée balked and this time Ranma all but snarled; the chopsticks flexing in her grip.
"Couldn't beat him as what!?" Ranma slammed the chopsticks to the table and bolted up from the table with a tempest brewing in her blue eyes; a tempest pointed solely at the youngest Tendo sister. Her fists balled angrily as she laid into the girl. "I controlled that fight from start ta finish! I kicked his ass as a boy and girl while savin' yours!" The fuming martial artist jabbed at the back of her head and the absent pigtail. "The only reason I got this is because you wouldn't butt out!"
The family sat stunned for a moment, staring at the pair as they stared one another down.
"Jeez, Saotome," Nabiki drawled after several tense moments, unable to see the big deal. "It's just hair, right?"
Ranma's gaze mechanically swiveled on the middle Tendo sister still smoldering with barely contained fury and for the first time in a long time, Nabiki Tendo felt the slightest edge of trepidation form up within the pits of her stomach.
"Just. Hair." The words were ground out in a manner that advertised to everybody watching that the girl was on her very last thread of emotional control. If Ranma's tone didn't make it plainly obvious, her grinding jaw and clenched fist should have. The death stare into Nabiki Tendo last several seconds longer than necessary before Ranma broke by favoring Akane with a glare. A contemptuous snort followed and the martial artist spun away from the table to stomp out of the room. A door slammed seconds later.
The remainder of the family simply stared at the point where Ranma had disappeared from sight for a full minute before turning back to Akane whose eyes in turn flicked back and forth until she finally turned away in embarrassment. Nabiki merely shrugged and went back to eating, though Kasumi too put down her chopsticks and rose to height. Questioning looks followed and she simply smiled demurely for them.
"Maybe I can help by evening it out just a bit," She offered, then turned to Nabiki. "If you could clear the dishes for me when everybody is done, imouto?"
Nabiki arched an eyebrow and wanted to say 'no', but nobody said no to Kasumi and thus bobbed her head, allowing the older sister to depart after Ranma to leave Nabiki, Akane, Soun and Genma to wonder at the situation. The Tendo Patriarch studied his daughter doing her level best to avoid eye contact then turned to Genma with a questioning look.
"I don't know." Genma stated simply, already anticipating the question. To say the behavior was atypical was a vast understate since Ranma was very rarely prone to such intense outburst. Sure he got upset and even pissed off, but like this? Not even finding out he had a fiancée had pressed the boy this badly. It took a lot to push the boy as he had just witnessed and over hairof all things? Genma Saotome shook his head, equally mystified. "I don't know, but I'll find out."
Ranma Saotome couldn't sleep.
Between his old man's interrogations and the day's happenings, she was entirely too keyed up to even think about sleep. Instead she found herself restlessly tracing a route through the house as the patter of rain beat against the roof outside. The world outside the window strobed blindingly for a split second and the storm beyond advertised its presence through the dull rumble of thunder. It was the last thing on Ranma's mind, however as she traced the path to the restroom and flipped on the light; squinting with the sudden illumination even as she slid the door shut.
Her vision cleared quickly enough and she turned to the only thing she had come for- The mirror. In it was the girl. Her cursed form. That body she had lived with off and on for nearly two years now. She was exotic; crystal blue eyes set upon flawless, almost porcelain skin. God only knew where the red hair had come from but it only served to enhance her already ethereal features. She frowned at it and instead cocked her head just enough to catch the back of her head at an angle where a pigtail used to reside. Ranma's hand reflexively reached up to feel along her scalp where several things used to be... The pigtail. The Dragon Whisker. Her very manhood.
Kasumi had done a decent job at leveling out the rougher cuts made by Ryoga's bandanna and now that red hair- sans pigtail -sat as a light, neck length crop that fell just shy of her shoulders; an effort that she had refused at first, though Ranma was rapidly coming to the conclusion that nobody refused Kasumi. A trim and styling followed in spite of her obstinacy, likewise enduring the subtle questioning as to what had gone so wrong.
'If only you knew,' Ranma shook her head mentally as she continued to feel through the layers of red hair. The martial artist knew what the others were thinking: That she was going ballistic over a simple pony-tail. They just didn't know... That fight had destroyed her seal and now it was either remain in this body or...
'...Or become that monster,' Ranma sighed audibly, her shoulders slumping as if an invisible weight had settled upon them. Ranma's gaze flicked back up to the girl in the mirror and she shook her head wearily. There was, of course, the possibility of a cure; another dragon whisker that would replace the one destroyed with her pigtail, but neither Ranma nor her reflection seemed convinced. 'Yeah, and where am I gonna find a dragon again?'
She turned from the mirror and slapped the light off, exiting the restroom more depressed than ever. She stood silently in the hallway with only the patter of rain and her thoughts for company until a rattling inconsistent with the gusting wind drew her attention. She followed it to the living room, wondering at first if the porch door was loose until the lightning illuminated the world once more... And the silhouette of a person beyond the bamboo screen.
'A burglar?' Ranma blinked and the rattle continued with more insistence. Once the initial shock had past, she couldn't help but to stare at the jiggling handle with mounting incredulity. 'But who would be stupid enough to break into a dojo?'
The redhead shrugged. Who or why was unimportant. The fact that it meant an ass to kick instead of brooding over some nigh-impossible cure was and she set a course for the side door, opening it quietly. Cold rain greeted her exit but she ignored it and hopped up to the rooftop instead, cutting a diagonal line across its spine and shingles to the porch door under assault. Soft rattling greeted her ears over the rain's din and Ranma allowed herself a slight predatory smile as she peeked over the edge. Little more than a shadow with an umbrella could be discerned from her vantage point, but it was more than enough to ensure the robber- her victim -was still there and she executed a graceful flip off the roof to land behind the intruder in complete silence.
His efforts seemed to grow more insistent as Ranma looked on, studying the figure that looked oddly familiar. Familiar or not, she decided it was high time to stop the thief before he forced the door outright. "Something I can do for you, asshole?"
The shadow stiffened with her words then spun around. Ranma's predatory smirk turned into a frown. Her open hand flexed into a strained fist as recognition found a home in her brain. Red Umbrella, check. Yellow bandana, check. Pants and shirt that had seen one too many unwashed days in the outback, check. Ryoga Hibiki's eyes widened in kind with the unexpected encounter.
"YOU!" The first word of his mouth was in surprise. Everything after that was a snarl. "I've seen hell because-OOooF!"
He was never able to complete the sentence as the redhead slid in against the completely unprepared boy and buried a sucker punch deep into the Lost Boy's gut. Air exploded from his lungs and then his face exploded as she spun around and delivered a reverse roundhouse kick to his cheek. Stars and blackness danced across the staggering boys vision, though he retained enough awareness to register the next four hits in the combination she had set up- Two more to the ribs, a pressure point in the abdomen, then another punishing blow to the face. Ryoga Hibiki wobbled across the wet grass of the Tendo courtyard, barely remaining upright enough to hold the red umbrella overhead.
Ranma stared with disgust at her wobbling opponent as he fought to maintain his footing while realizing that even if he did, his former childhood classmate was no longer a threat. That hardly mattered to the soaked girl, who was seething inside.
"Ryoga." The martial arts demanded the Lost Boy's attention as she crossed the space to him. Ryoga tried to step back and away, but she had every advantage now. Her blue eyes flashed with the lightning overhead and she cracked her knuckles with the thunder. "What did I tell ya was gonna happen if you pulled this shit again?"
"I'll... I'll have my revenge Saotome!" The Lost Boy panted and tried to firm up his stance. Ranma cocked her head at his obsessive behavior but shook it with false sympathy.
"Should have taken the bread, Hibiki."
The girl was under his umbrella in the moment it took him to draw his next breath to protest and her elbow slammed into the rib that had already been hit thrice before. This time an audible crack sounded with the blow. Ryoga doubled over in pain and she grabbed his upper right arm as he fell, stepping past him in a fluid maneuver that tore it from its socket. Two more open palm strikes slammed into his face with the second round off by her elbow that in turn sent the fanged boy reeling. The grip on his umbrella finally faltered and cold rain hit him openly for the first time.
"DAMN YOU!"The lost boy roared and put every last ounce of strength into extricating himself from the battle. Ranma pulled back in case of a last minute gambit on his part but Ryoga blurred into the night just over the Tendo property wall. Ranma held her guard for a second longer then relaxed, standing alone in the rain as the lights came on in the house behind her. Much as instinct demanded she press the advantage, it wasn't as if he was going to get very far with that rib and she was already a soaked mess.
'Whatever,'She huffed and turned back to the house, finding Nabiki and Kasumi in pajamas, peering at her from the stairway upon entering.
"What was the racket, Saotome?" The middle sister questioned and it was immediately followed up on by her older sibling.
"We heard fighting..." Kasumi emoted concern, stepping past him to a shelf full of linen. She proffered Ranma one with the clear implication that she should use it to dry off.
"Hibiki was tryin' to break in." Eyes widened at Ranma's announcement as she toweled herself off. "Showed him the error of his ways."
"Send more bread his way?" Nabiki rolled her eyes with sarcastic amusement; amusement that died upon seeing Ranma's icy stare back at her.
"I dislocated his shoulder and broke a rib."
"Oh my," Kasumi intoned with a hand covering her mouth in the place of Nabiki's silence. She continued to talk in order to fill the uncomfortable silence between the pair. "We thought it might have been the piglet."
Now it was Ranma's turn to blink, unsure she heard correctly. "Piglet?"
"It got in somehow," Nabiki explained quickly, hoping to put the social faux pas behind her. "Akane's taking care of it; one of those cute miniature ones that people keep as pets. Looks pretty banged up from the storm."
Ranma shook her head at the unlikely series of events and tossed the towel back over her shoulder. "Well I'm freezing after running around in that rain after Ryoga. I'm going to get a... a hot..."
Both sisters watched as the redhead's voice trailed off, her face slowly developing into a frown. A single twitch developed along the girls' left cheek but she shook it off with a long sigh. Nabiki arched an eyebrow at the obviously conflicting emotions playing out across the Ranma's face until her thousand yard stare finally broke. "I'm hittin' the futon. Don't wake me up unless it's world war three or some-"
Three pairs of eyes instantly tracked on a small black streak as it passed between their legs, seemingly oblivious to their presence. It rounded the hallway corner and made a beeline toward the bathroom. Ranma arched an eyebrow, pointing in its general direction as it ran. "That wouldn't be...?"
"Akane's piglet appears to have run amok," Nabiki deadpanned and waved its presence off. "Whatever. I'm going to bed."
"Ranma, could you please make sure it doesn't cause any trouble?" Kasumi asked, prompting a less than energetic look from the martial artist.
"Sure, why not..." Ranma returned dully as her train of thought followed her tone of voice. '...Since I'm apparently done takin' out the other trash tonight.' She followed the pig's path lethargically and opened the door it had managed to squeeze through even as it seemed to busy itself with the furoh facet controls. Ranma cocked her head and watched as it continued to jump on the knob oblivious to her presence. 'What the hell is it trying to do?'
"Bwee! Bwee! Bwee!"
The redhead's eyes tracked it up and down as it tried to manipulate the hot water spigot, bouncing, then scratching at it furiously until it finally gained traction. Water started to trickle then flow with earnest as Ranma watched in amazement. 'That's one smart-'
Any amusement she had over the scene died as the steam suddenly filled with the body of a nude teenage boy, complete with bandanna and fanged countenance. The newly transformed boy let out a sigh of relief but paused, realizing something wasn't quite right. He turned to find a growling redhead standing over him. Ryoga's eyes widened in horror.
"Tell me why I shouldn't kill ya right now?"
The lost boy's mouth opened but the boy himself was at a loss for words. He was already battered and bruised by this same redhead and another round of that didn't bode well in his current condition. The pain in his ribs throbbed and the left side of his face just plain hurt. Still, he was at least able to summon the proper indignation, if not fight. "Because this is all you fault, Ranma!"
Her fist flexed impatiently. She had heard that before, but it was only the inclusion of a Jusenkyo curse that stayed her anger from visiting itself on Ryoga outright. "And how's that, Hibiki?"
"I followed you after you ran out on our duel!" The nude boy stood up out of the furoh, clearly incensed. Neither batted an eye at his state of undress as Ryoga continued. "I wandered through the vastness of China chasing you!"
Ranma stared at the implications inherent in his story and snorted with dead humor. "And ya followed me all the way to Jusenkyo where you got your dumb ass cursed."
"Yes!" Ryoga confirmed angrily. Ranma crooked a condescending smile.
"Serves ya right."
"WHAT?!" Ryoga bellowed and lunged at Ranma with an outstretched hand. The redhead simply sidestepped the already off balance attempt and grabbed the wrist as he passed. She yanked the boy out of the furoh and slammed him into the hard tile where she straddled his back, locking the arm behind his back. "Let me up, dammit!"
"Didn't I pop this joint once already?" Ranma eyed the shoulder and shrugged. "Oh well."
She pulled it through hyper-extension again and popped it neatly out of place, immediately followed by another cry of pain from Ryoga. She let him writhe under her for a moment longer before using her free hand to press his face forcibly into the tile.
"You're goddamn certifiable, you know that? Ya followed me to China on quest for revenge over bread." She pushed his head harder into the tile, grinding his jaw into the hard surface. "Well I'll tell ya what, Hibiki; You got off damn easy compared to me, which means I got no problems makin' it worse for you if you wanna keep pushin' it."
"You... You call that cute form a-ARRRARGH!" Ryoga tried rebuke the martial artist, but Ranma yanked on the dislocated shoulder to end his rebuttal with pain.
"In other words, quit while you're ahead," Ranma clenched her jaw as she struggled to contain the fury that was building up over the past injustices relived. "Before I do somethin' you might really regret."
Ranma scrunched her brow at the name and Akane's voice coming from the hallway. 'P-chan,' she mouthed, then looked down at Ryoga beneath her as two and two came together. "P-chan? Piggy-chan? Cute name, Hibiki."
"Don't look down on murrrrrllff!" Ranma simply pressed his face back into the tile and reached for the shower hose. She smirked at the lost boy and took aim.
"This'll make you a bit more manageable," She replied and triggered the shower head. It took less than a seconds worth of application to melt the Lost Boy into a black piglet, which she then snatched up by the bandanna, eyeing it. The piglet struggled and she chortled her amusement, poking at its nose. "Yeah I'm thinkin' this was the right curse for you after- OW!
The moment's worth of neglect was all it took for her index finger to wander within range of Ryoga's mouth and he bit down hard, securing his release. The black piglet fell back to the tile where it scrambled around Ranma even as she scrambled to catch it. Ryoga was out of the bathroom in a flash with Ranma in hot pursuit, stumbling out into the hallway seconds later only to watch as it made a beeline for Akane.
"P-Chan!" She put her hands down to scoop it up while simultaneously providing Ryoga with safe haven from the irate redhead. Akane looked at the battered piglet in wonder, then Ranma who had just exited the bathroom to stare it down. The math was easy for the youngest Tendo and she fixed a glare for Ranma's sake. "What in the world are you doing to this poor piggy?!"
Ranma was about ready to protest her innocence when another thought entered her mind. It caused the slightest arrogant smirk to manifest as she watched Akane Tendo clutch the piglet defensively. Ranma shook her head and simply walked by.
"He's all yours, Tendo."
Ranma's next visit to the restroom was by dawns' early light upon being woken up by Kasumi. That in itself was a switch since that role had apparently been delegated to Akane in the week prior. 'Walkin on eggshells after last night,'She reasoned, which suited her just fine. She needed the space and an Akane Tendo wakeup call was the very last thing she wanted at the moment. The cold rinse she was forced to partake of was the very next to last, but she had no choice in the matter and took her medicine like the man she was... Or used to be.
A queasy feeling settled in the redhead's stomach as she rinsed the last of the lather away with cold water while staring longingly at the warm water spigot.
'Maybe...' Her hand began to rise for the facet as the thought formed. 'Maybe it's run its course. Maybe I don't gotta worry about it. Maybe...'
The transfixed girl grasped the facet and began to turn slowly, allowing warm water to flow at a trickle, then a modest stream. Ranma repositioned her hands but paused before outright letting the water flow over them... She was scared. Hopeful. Uncertain.
"Feh." The redhead shook off those introspective emotions and set her jaw, plunging her hand into the flowing water. The change washed over her immediately and for the briefest of moments, the now male martial arts felt elation... At least until he felt the slick wetness of damp hair slithering down his bare shoulders.
"Aw, dammit!" Ranma panic and scrambled for the spigot, spinning it closed while simultaneously opening the cold water tap with his other hand. He all but dove under the facet and the curse took hold once more to the neo-girl's mixed relief. She recovered from the awkward position and stood up to catch sight of the nearest mirror. Her fears were instantly confirmed. Instead of the polite crop of hair she had went to bed with last night, she now wore a damp, dark red mane that fell to her mid back. Ranma stared at it for another moment before flicking a troublesome strand out of her eyes to join the rest, then addressed her reflection directly. "So much for that."
With any hope for an easy fix suitable squashed, the depressed martial artist turned away from the mirror and set about the task of dressing for the day, leaving the wet hair to its own devices. While there wasn't any silver lining to speak of concerning the entire debacle, the expressions on those waiting at the breakfast table were priceless.
"What the hell, Saotome?"
"Better start explaining, boy."
Wide eyes tracked her person as she circled around to her position at the table as incredulous stares tracked her until she sat down at the open spot next to Nabiki. Once she had settled in, Ranma deemed an answer appropriate.
"It grew." With that, she began consuming the cold soba noodles even as the gawking continued.
"Overnight?" Nabiki starred, all but ready to reach out and give it a tug herself; an impulse curbed by the remembrance of the violence dispensed last night. Even so, there was no way it was fake. Not a chance. She shook her head at the impossibility. "That's just unnatural."
"But... But I just cut it..." Kasumi couldn't stop blinking, going so far as to lean forward in front of Nabiki to stare.
"And now its long again." Ranma irritably dismissed her curiosity with no intention and at offering an explanation, let alone having the patience to do so. An inhuman snort attracted her attention and she glanced down the table past her audience to find Akane staring back at her... With a little black piglet nestled in her lap. The sight prompted the slightest edge of a malicious smile even as Genma laid into his son turned daughter
"After breakfast you're going to lose that girlie hair," Genma ordered as he took the overly feminine details in for himself. "And after that, you're going to spend some time as-"
"How's the piggy, Tendo?" Ranma interrupted her father's rant; paying absolutely no attention to him at all. She had eyes only for Akane, who suddenly adopted a guard look. The black piglet's eyes widened suddenly and it began to squirm in the youngest Tendo's grasp.
"You're scaring him on purpose!" Akane accused, tightening her hold on the struggling piglet. Her gaze narrowed on the redhead. "You had better not come near him again!"
Ranma took one last bite of her soba and smirked, standing up from the table as the others watched the confrontation unfold. "Wasn't plannin' on it. But there's somethin' ya probably oughta know..."
The temperamental sister continued to glare even as Ranma turned to walk away. The suspicion in her tone was clearly evident. "What?"
"...That's Ryoga you're holdin' there." The martial artist chuckled and could all but feel the shock and awe at her back. Ranma stopped and glanced back to the suddenly wide eyed girl. The redhead decided the moment was perfect for the coup de gras as she walked away. "Hope ya didn't undress in front of him or 'nuthin."
Unadulterated chaos erupted in her wake.
Whatever joy Ranma Saotome, heir to the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts had achieved in poking Akane Tendo with a stick was blunted by her own poor performance later that afternoon. It was a well rehearsed scheme; one that she normally worked to absolute perfection. Ranma would dress in her favorite mao suit and commence to liberating the food stuffs from any and all of the unsuspecting vendors along her route. All she had to do was roll up, flash them the cutest smile they had ever seen and walk away with her arms full of goodies... Just not today.
Something was throwing off that fine tuned scheme and she suspected it had to do with the long mane of hair at her back. Simply put it, it didn't fit the cute-as-a-button image she was looking to project, which meant the only thing she was coming away with was a growling stomach.
'Stupid hair curse,' The redhead groused as she thoughtlessly walked the dividing fence separating a street and canal. Her perfect balance gained more than a few stares, but she paid them little mind as she considered her next course of action. 'Ask Kasumi to cut it again? Pay somebody to chop it off?'
Any idle musings on the topic were cut off as her attention was drawn to a standoff in an empty lot she was passing. Ranma watched as three masked figures faced off against one black haired schoolgirl. Most of their conversation was lost at her distance but something about Furikan and a match found her ear.
'But what's with these guys and the bandages?'a portion of her thought process wondered as the three arrayed themselves around the girl. Any question she could pose became moot as their actions spoke for themselves. All three charged simultaneously, bring the clubs they were wielding to bear on their target.
And then they got their asses kicked.
The clubs aided their wielders in no way as the school girl pulled out a ribbon and proceeded to whip the tar out of them. The ribbon snapped like a machine gun, forcing what she assumed were Furikan students back under the painful assault. Ranma shook her head at the pathetic display. 'Guess it's up to me to put a stop to this before one of those chumps really gets hurt.'
"Please forgive if I've failed to convey my message!" The ribbon spiraled through the air and the black haired girl have it a snap, as if to punctuate her apology. Painful yelps followed the staccato of cracks as she pressed her reprisal. "If I may restate it, this! Or this! Or this will be clearer!"
Her next volley, however, failed to land and she spun back around on her momentum to find the end of the ribbon taught in the hand of a redheaded girl. Ranma was about to call an end to the hostilities verbally when one of the masked figures called out over her in surprise, pointing.
"It's the martial arts girl from yesterday!" One exclaimed, causing Ranma to blink.
"The one with the really bad cut?" Another boggled. "But its super long now!"
"Who cares! Didn't she help Akane?" The final last of the trio chimed in desperately. "We're Akane's friends too! Help us beat this witch!"
It was the last statement that caused Ranma no small amount of moral pause. She looked from the masked figures whose voices sounded decidedly female to the schoolgirl attached to the other end of the ribbon. The black haired girl wait patiently for the outcome of the conversation and it was there that Ranma made a decision.
'Akane's friends.' The statement left a decidedly sour taste in the redhead's mouth. It made her next decision all the easier. 'Who am I to butt in on chick fight?'
The school girl blinked as the tension in her ribbon suddenly slackened. The girl had not only outright let go, but was now favoring her with a crooked smile. "Sorry about that. My bad."
"You can't just leave us!"
"Seriously, three on one?" Ranma shook her head while her tone conveyed the disdain she felt. "Figures that's the kinda people Tendo would hang out with." She turned her back on them and threw them an uncaring wave over her shoulder. "Ja-ne."
Ranma hadn't taken ten steps when she was stopped by the schoolgirl's voice. "Girl. What is your name?"
The girl's cheek twitched with the gender reference, but she turned back regardless. "Saotome. Ranma. You?"
"Kuno, Kodachi; The Black Rose of St. Bacchus," The schoolgirl inclined her head respectfully. "Please do not forget it."
'Kuno?' Ranma boggled as the girl pulled a black rose from her book bag and flicked it toward her. Ranma caught it on pure reflex and watched her bound off in manic laughter. Ranma stared after her for a moment before taking her own leave, sparing a contemptuous glance at the cowering girls as she departed.
They were also problems that would follow her home.
First, there was Akane Tendo who didn't quite seem to appreciate that she had shared her bed with a Jusenkyo cursed asshole. Ranma smiled at the thought even as the youngest Tendo melted down right before her very eyes whilethe family watched from the living room; peering around the corner like so many mice.
"And you just let him watch!" The youngest Tendo fumed with rising anger, and she all but stabbed the martial artist with an accusing finger. "He saw me without my bra, Ranma!"
"Then I guess me and Ryoga really do have something in common," Ranma cocked her head as if to contemplate the idea, adding fuel to Akane's boiling temper.
"You could have stopped him, you Pervert!"
"Ya miss yesterday's episode, tomboy?" Ranma rolled her eyes, clearly not taking the situation as seriously as the girl involuntarily named her fiancée. "I kicked his ass twice and was on my way to kicking it a third time when you screwed it up. Again."
"How was I supposed to know he was a pig?!" Akane screeched as she revisited last night; specifically the memories of chatting to a little black piglet as she undressed in before its very eyes. "You could have told me!"
"And you've just been a real trustin' soul these past few weeks, ain't ya Tendo?" Ranma's eyes narrowed on the girl who had begun to ball her fist. "I could have told ya the sky was blue and you'd still find something to bitch about."
"It was a bit over the top, but she's got a point, sis," Nabiki commented from the sidelines and Akane threw a angry glare in her direction.
"Who's side are you on anyway?! She balked, now seething over the wounds to her pride. Kasumi chose that moment to intervene by stepping fully into the living room. Her polite smile managed to dampen her sister's fury slightly.
"Some of your friends are here to see you, Akane."
"What the hell has gotten into you boy?!" Genma descended upon the redhead with the distraction, managing a headlock before Ranma could even react. He throttled the girl mercilessly while interrogating her as she struggled. "Complaining about this! Arguing about that! And what did you do to your-!"
"IT AIN'T YOUR DAMN CONCERN!" Ranma hollered and lowered her center of gravity. Her right foot slid two centimeters out and she chose her pivot point, dropping just enough to haul her father off her right shoulder and onto the floor with a hard thud. Genma rolled out and regained his footing, scowling at his neo-daughter.
"We'll discuss this outside, boy," The Saotome patriarch demanded and strode past the red with purpose even as Kasumi was letting Akane's guests in.
"Thank you for having us over-Ack! It's her!" One of the three girls following Kasumi and Akane pointed. Upon designating the long haired redhead walking past with a trembling finger, the other two likewise shuffled away.
"The traitor from the park!" Another gasped while the remaining girl covered her mouth in scandal.
"The what...?" Akane blinked even as Ranma stopped to eye the cowering girls.
Ranma scrutinize the trio hiding behind the fiancée with a puzzled expression. "You girls wouldn't happen to be...?"
"She just abandoned us!" One wailed pitifully, solidifying their identity in the martial artists mind. Unfortunately, that thought process had contempt written all over it.
"Oh hey, it's the klutzy trio again." Ranma waved cutely at the bruised girls, then eyed Akane expectantly. "Friends of yours, Tendo?"
"What was that?!" Akane's temper simmered once more with the obvious insinuation, prompting the martial artist to shrug innocently.
"Just figuring you had so much in common is all," The girl sniped, prompting a twitch to form at the girl's cheek.
"Evil witch!" Akane's schoolmate rebuked and Ranma shrugged.
"Whatever," She continued out the door opposite of the group. "I'm on my way to kick the fat old Panda's ass. Don't wait up."
"We won't!" Akane shouted at the redhead's back as the girls looked on.
"What is with her, Akane-chan?" One asked, shaking her head.
"And you're actually letting her stay?" The other boggled. Akane huffed with the last comment.
"It's not up to me." She temporized, leading the girls up the stairway to her room. "But forget about him for-"
"Her." One of the trio pointed out as they followed. Akane scrunched her forehead with the unpleasant reminder.
"Forget about her." The youngest Tendo continued, "How did you get all those bruises? Something about a fight?"
All three nodded at once and told Akane their story. Outside, a different story was being related as one redheaded girl and a middle aged, bald martial artist beat one another down with extreme prejudice.
"And I said you're going to cut it!" Genma growled as he ducked under his daughter's roundhouse kick to deliver several punishing body blows as it passed.
"And I'm tellin' ya it won't do any good!" She yelled back, pivoting on the momentum she had gained to profile away from the combination her father was hoping to setup. The redhead whirled around and batted his strike away, looking to likewise compromise her father's guard.
"You've been spending too much time as a girl!" The opening Ranma sought in her father's guard closed up, and Genma pounced with the feint. Ranma back peddled out of the trap, but took a fist to the abdomen for her troubles. She slid back and reassembled her guard while brushing the long strands of hair out of her eyes. Genma fixed a steely gaze on her. "You're going to change back. You're going to cut that hair. And most of all, you're going to apologize to Akane!"
"Like hell I will!" The long haired girl snarled and charged. She leapt into the air, dodging Genma's counter attack, twisted around and landed a solid flying kick to his face. "...on all accounts!"
Genma Saotome went skidding, but twisted to regain his balance through the slide before coming to a stop several meters later. He felt his busted lip and wiped the small trickle of blood away, considering the panting girl warily. She was tired but she was also giving as good as she got, which meant he was feeling it too. The Saotome patriarch switched tactics.
"What's gotten into you, boy?"
The sudden lack of physical violence in no way caused Ranma to drop her guard. "Ain't your business."
"We're guests of the Tendos and that makes it my business," Genma pushed back and was rewarded with an ever so slight look of indecision on his cursed son's face. "Soun and I went through a lot of trouble to get you and Akane-"
"Yeah, she told you how there was no chance in hell it was ever gonna happen, right?" Ranma preempted his father's sob story concerning the parent's mutual sacrifice. The girl jabbed a thumb over her shoulder to indicate the house at large. "Don't suppose she mentioned how she declared me and her nothin' but strangers after I saved her ass yesterday, did she?"
"That doesn't mean-"
"Didn't think so." The redhead shrugged, already knowing the answer. It was immediately confirmed by her father's attempt at verbal evasion. "Face it old man, it just ain't gonna work out."
"Well you're going to go back in there and try again!" Genma pointed back to the house with the demand. "And you're going to do it as a man, not a whiny little girl with long hair and cute bows!"
The fact that Ranma's hair was mostly an unstyled mane less cute bows, ribbons or adornments of any sort made little difference to Ranma who simply crossed her arms in challenge. "Well it ain't gonna happen."
While Genma Saotome wasn't sure which part of his ultimatum 'wasn't going to happen,' he'd be damned if he'd take that sort of lip from his own child. "By the time we're done here, you're going to beg me for some hot water, boy. Then you're going to plead for the chance to apologize to Akane."
"You and what army, Old man?" Ranma's arms dropped to her side loosely and she bounced on her feet eagerly. She glanced around, motioning to the entire Tendo courtyard. "In case ya didn't notice, there ain't no convenient stop signs ta help you scrape a win this time."
"I've got moves you've never seen before, boy." Genma warned direly and began and began to circle his neo-daughter for tactical positioning. "Last chance."
"So bring it already," The martial artist waved him over with all the arrogance in the world. Genma scowled, but nodded.
"Just remember, you asked for this," Genma took a low crouching stance and cocked his right arm back while fanning the left out before him. The dramatic display set Ranma on edge and she watched his every movement carefully. Genma took a deep breath, radiating menace. "Anything Goes School of Martial Arts Special Attack number thirty eight! Ich! Ni! SAN!"
Genma slid around, shifting his center of balance abruptly and pulled both hands back. He also began to glow blue. Ranma's eyes widened as the move telegraphed through her brain. 'No way!' She gaped, coming to an unlikely conclusion as he sighted her with wind up. 'The old man's gotta chi technique up his sleeve?!'
Ranma pulled back into a tight defensive stance, bracing behind a cross guard for the inevitable attack until her thoughts caught up to the word. She blinked, mouthing the word. 'Hadoken?' The redhead peeked out beyond her arms just in time to watch her father casually toss a kettle of hot water at her. Her eyes only had time to widen before the kettle smacked into her, upending its steaming contents upon the martial artist to reverse the curse.
Genma Saotome watched as the girl twitched violently with the application of steaming hot water, then predictably melt back into the gender of his birth. The martial arts master smirked at his own success. Girl to boy? Check. Next, get rid of all that long... Genma quirked an eyebrow as his son began to struggle with the now black mane of hair. If he didn't know any better, it was getting... longer?
"Dammit, Pops!" Ranma clutched at the back of his head as if trying to contain the growth that was even now creeping out of his scalp. Ranma glanced back and forth in panic, looking for some way- anyway -to stem the tide of growing hair before it reached critical mass while his father watched with ever growing incredulity. Fortunately enough, there was a mass of cold water nearby and the panicking Saotome dove for it.
The last time Ranma found himself in the Tendo koi pond it was courtesy of his very father relating the story of Jusenkyo to the family. This time he partook of it eagerly, displacing water and fish in order to stay the blessing accidentally bestowed upon him two years ago. 'Curse is more like it,' The now redhead martial artist grumbled as she picked herself out of the sloshing pond, spitting out fish water. 'Definitely a curse.'
"Now see what ya did?" The sopping mess of a girl stepped back onto dry land, staring a dejected hole into her father as her father watched with wide eyes. Genma still wasn't sure what he did, but he could see the results with absolute clarity. Five minutes ago, that girl body worn by his son had red hair reaching down to just about the middle of her back. Now the wet tangles of scarlet were hanging just past the small of her back, down around her buttox. The Saotome child grasped a thick strand hanging over her left shoulder and wrung it out with a put out expression on her face. "Wonderful. Simply goddamn wonderful."
"Ah, son?" Genma stepped forward carefully, staring at the hair as if it were a living organism of sorts. He crept up to his cursed progeny who was busy wringing pond water from the lengthy strands of red hair. "What just happened?"
"Ya couldn't leave well enough alone, that's what just happened." Ranma responded edgily. She knew there was no way she was getting out of it without an explanation when her father just continued to stare, reaching out as if he wanted to poke her hair experimentally. She sighed and sat down on the nearest rock to wring out the tangles of hair while offering an explanation. "Fine. happened a ways back in China. Kicked some thief's ass while huntin' down food and ended up taking his food instead."
The look on Genma's face clearly indicated that he didn't have a clue as to how Ranma went from a beat down to the tangles draped around her but she continued regardless. "Turns out he had stolen the food from some outback Chinese restaurant. The porridge I ate was their special technique."
"That... grows... hair?" Her father boggled at the concept, reflexively rubbing the his own bald head in wonder. "But... such a blessing..."
"...Sucks if ya don't got the Dragon Whisker to seal it up." Ranma curtailed her father's amazement with hard reality. Another length of hair dribbled with water as she wrung it out. "If you don't have one to bind your hair, it'll keep growin' and growin' and growin'."
"Well that's not so bad." Genma shrugged, failing to see the down side. Ranma cast a dry look at him.
"Seconds, Pop." The put out redhead motioned to the crimson tresses surrounding her. "I got hair down to my ass in seconds. When I first got the curse, I nearly filled up half the guy's restaurant back in China inside a minute."
"That's... it's... Hmmmm..." The senior martial artist cocked his head and thought as conflicting emotions warred within. On one hand, this technique was an absolute Godsend to people such as himself. On the other it was a severe liability if it couldn't be controlled. Still, if he could only make it work... He returned his attention to the girl that was his son, who in turn was watching him doubtfully. "And this dragon whisker... controls the growth?"
Ranma rolled her eyes, easily seeing where the conversation was going. "You can thank that asshole Ryoga for destroying mine. Akane wasn't much of a help either."
"Surely this Chinese restaurant has another in stock?" The Saotome patriarch continued to press for a positive outcome.
Ranma fixed him with a decidedly unamused look. "And when was the last time you seen a dragon ta pluck whiskers from walking around? It was all I could do to get the last one the guy had in stock. Got the impression he was gettin' out of the hair business."
"But that technique... He could be richer than the Emperor himself with that dish!" Genma boggled, unable to comprehend why anyone would abandon such an art.
"Funny ya should mention that," Ranma nodded as she tried to arrange her now merely damp hair into something she wouldn't trip over. She flipped the mass behind her back where it hung all the way to her backside. The martial artist eyed its presence with disdain, then returned to the topic at hand. "He was going on about bloody wars being fought over the Dragon Whisker or something. Can't see why, personally."
Genma, however could. Bald men everywhere... Daimyo... Emperors... Aging martial artist... all fighting a pitched and bloody war where no quarter was given just so their bald heads would yet again see another strand of hair. Genma shivered at the battlefield of carnage and violence playing out in his mind's eye.
"Such a seductive horror," Genma murmured to himself as he stared at his son tresses longingly. Ranma heard it and nodded.
"Not sure about the seductive part, but horror is dead on."
"And only as a man?" Her father confirmed, prompting Ranma to nod again as they both headed to the house. It was a fiendish dilemma to be certain Genma realized as he worked the angles. Certain contingencies required the boy to be a man amongst men, but his son couldn't even risk spending a minute in his birth form with this new 'blessing'. Likewise, if anything was to happen on the marriage front, it would almost certainly have to happen with his son as an actual son.
Truly the proverbial rock and a hard place.
"I have some contacts here in Japan." Genma advised the neo-girl as they stepped back into the house. Rnama suddenly looked hopeful. "We'll ask around and see if we can't source this whisker..." For both of our sakes, Genma indulged in another covetous glance at the long red hair. He would get a whisker, resurrect his own hair and cure his son...
...More than likely in that order whether he realized his moral priorities or not. Still, there was one last thing to address even if the hair and gender were an impasse, and he stopped the girl with a firm hand on her shoulder. Ranma looked at it and then up to him. Genma could all but see his offspring running through the tactical options of the contact like it was second nature.
'I'll look for your dragon whisker, but you have to promise me one thing." He advised solemnly, piquing the martial artist's attention. "You have to at least try with Akane."
Ranma favored her father with an edgy look. "And who's gonna give her the message she's gotta start tryin herself?"
The heavy amount of scorn in his child's voice took Genma back and he was just assembling a suitable comeback when a new female voice interrupted his thoughts.
"It's... It's even longer than before!"
Ranma scrunched her eyes closed with the almost certainly impending migraine that was about to descend upon her. Kasumi now gaped outright; an unusual sight in and of itself and she was clearly gaping at Ranma Saotome. Nabiki casually looked up from her magazine on the living room sofa and stared, then scrubbed her eyes to make sure the anomaly wasn't simply a hallucination. Given her extracurricular activities at school and bearing the label 'Ice Queen,' the middle Tendo considered herself a professional and was rarely prone to swearing. She had an image to uphold, after all.
Today she made an exception.
"What the hell, Saotome?" Nabiki cocked her head, almost disbelieving what she was seeing to the point where she had set aside her fashion magazine in order to concentrate fully on the impossible to miss sight. Twenty four hours ago, it was a pigtail. Twelve hours ago it had grown to the middle of her back. Now it was down to her backside. She also knew several girls that would be jealous at the sight, up to and including her sister who likewise stared openly at the martial artist. The middle Tendo was also jealous but not for the same reason. "If that's a martial arts trick, there's a killing to be made off of it."
"Willin' to take the gender curse that goes with it?" Ranma retorted dryly, effectively extinguishing the monetary gleam in Nabiki Tendo's eyes and replacing it with one of uncertainty... And some fear mixed in unless she missed her guess.
'Thought so,' Ranma confirmed mentally and kept her course for the bathroom.
Author's Notes -Some of my best inspiration comes from sponging off other people's simple commentary. In this case you can blame Anthony for yet another fic. His comment started off with the simple words, 'Did you ever hear of that Bet...?" I generally don't do bets, but this one mauled me and I had a completed snippet within five minutes of his question. No, I didn't remember that bet, but it sure sounded fun. So why not?
Butterflies; Apparently there was a Bet way back whenever to make the biggest change to canon by altering the smallest event possible. The example related to me by Anthony was something about Ranma sleeping on a rock wrong while camping and deciding to say to hell with canon as a result. If that was anywhere close to the actual plot, it makes me want to gouge my eyeballs out just on principle. My response? To make something that will gouge your eyeballs out instead of mine... And hopefully entertain you somewhere along the way.
Perception; Probably the biggest element in this fic is not canon fact, but how events are perceived by the characters and what they know at the time, not what they will know or could know. Here, the key word is 'hair' and all Ranma knows is he's still cursed with no cure in sight. He doesn't have pork bun assassins to push the plot along toward a conclusion. he doesn't have an old ghoul to provide helpful insight. There's no way for him to know it will just run its course as book 15 shows. He's trapped between a rock and a hard place and he's none too happy about it.
Hair vs Gender; Is having a hair curse enough to force Ranma into his female form for an extended length of time? IMO, yes, especially when said curse will grow nonstop without the dragon whisker to keep it in check. Canon had him rapidly filling a gym storage shed within minutes if not less, and seemed to even express some measure of relief when splashed by Cologne to stop it. Likewise, Ranma seemed to consider this particular curse as something of an abomination at every stage of the arc. I feel canon demonstrates clearly which curse Ranma considers the lesser of evils.
Hair Today; I've read the chapter a few times and there appears to be some ambiguity as to how the hair curse finally depleted itself: Potency or Time. In the hair arc's final frames, it is suggested that Ranma simply ran out of hair, indicating that a dragon whisker has a finite 'charge' to it. Cologne also mentions that the Dragon Whiskers have a 4,000 year shelf life while serving the expired whisker soup to the pork bun guys. So which mechanic is at work here? Did Ranma's hair run out of charge or did it literally hit its expiration date that very day and stop growing?
If the former, Ranma will not realize that the curse is depleted until he uses up enough hair as he did in the hair arc. If the latter, Ranma's troubles will automatically disappear at around six months into canon. Since the arc suggests the 'charge' mechanic is the predominant catalyst at work, it will be the one I am using. Also implicit in this version is that Ranma does not know how the curse works. He does not know he can run out of hair. He does not know it will stop growing once it runs out of 'charge'. To point, if he had any clue as to this information, he would have displayed the knowledge in the canon hair arc. At every step he was completely ignorant of how the hair curse worked beyond the fact it would grow uncontrollably without the Dragon Whisker.
Timeframes; One often overlooked element in Ranma's history is his experience in China. Sure, we all know the highlights, but there are subtleties that often get missed. One major point comes with book 15 when Ranma relates his Chinese hair chronicles to Akane. To point, the flashback opens "China. Several years ago." To realize just how powerful these words are to Ranma's canon, you have to review the scene. First and foremost, Ranma has the gender curse. Second, Ranma has been in Nerima six months to a year by book 15's events (vague estimate). Conclusion; Ranma had been in China 'several years' before the start of book 1. Not simply that, he had been there for 'several years' after receiving the hair curse and likewise having the jusenkyo curse the entire time. With 'several' being more than 'a couple', Ranma has had both curses for a minimum of two years before coming to Nerima. If we assume Ranma is the same age as Akane at the start of book 1 (15 years old), Ranma could very well have been 13 years or younger when he received the Juenskyo curse, depending on one's interpretation of this prose. Collaborating evidence of this is the packet of Girl Away Ranma used in the very first happosai arc. It is stated that he obtained this while in China. When? How? WHY? Ranma's experience resume is clearly broader than what canon details.
All of that said, there is the possibility that Ranma is embellishing his own tale in relating it to Akane. More probable is that RT is playing fast and loose with her timelines, though that is a slippery plot slope that reaches throughout the entire series since time is a very malleable thing in Ranma ½. To point, Materia Blade reminds me that the anime says the trip lasted only one month... Pretty optimistic for a foot trek across the back forty of China. Yes, you can interpret this any number of ways, but I'm simply taking advantage of the prose given to me :)
Special Thanx: Materia Blade (who's off in Japan as we speak), Delta Theta, DCG, Dragon Dagger (get well soon!), Holyknight and Slade! Anybody I missed, I still love you :)